I’m going to be doing some author visits to schools in the next few weeks and it’s got me thinking about being a teenager and being an adult and whatever happens to us in between. There were times when I was writing my YA novel that I questioned the voice of my main character–was I truly in touch with how teens think and act? Was I just working with a faint memory (those terribly flawed things) and adding in bits I thought sounded good? Judgement is to come–I’ll let you know what the real live teens say.

But I’ve also been thinking about who I was as a teen. Or who I thought I was. Or wasn’t. And I kind of want to be her friend. So this is what I would say to 16 year old me if we were pen pals. (Or whatever the modern equivalent would be. But let’s face it: 16 year old me would dig old fashioned letters, even today. She was cool like that.)

This is her circa 1995. I’m sure you got that from the oversized plaid shirt and the braids.

Ria Grade 10

Dear 16 year old Ria,

I don’t want this to sound like a list of things an adult is saying you should do, but it might end up doing that anyway. Sorry. Adults often can’t help it. We are advice machines. It’s like a product of having life experience.

You have no idea how open your mind is right now. How open to creativity and possibility and impossible things you are. It’s something that gets drilled out of you as you get older, but a lucky few hang on to it. Do that. It will make all the difference. In this one thing, do not grow up. You might think others will think you’re weird or childish, but secretly they’ll wish they hadn’t been conned out of their openness either. And there’s an important difference between childish and child-like. Be the latter. It means you’re still in touch with your innate spontaneity and creativity. And once you let that go, it’s really, really hard to get it back.

This next one comes from a book you will write years from now (Yes, you end up being a writer. No, you don’t become a millionaire.) about embracing what you love, no matter what others think: be a geek. It is a secret weapon against so many things: conformity, boredom, apathy, competition… Being a geek just means being enthusiastic about and good at what you love. This is how smart people find their dream jobs.

You need to worry a lot less about what others think of you. I’ll admit, this is still a problem for me, and I should know better by now. So start young–get out of the habit of comparing yourself to others and adjusting your behaviour to fit in. Super hard to do, but super worth it.

A few quick tips. The guy in grade 11 who you want to kiss: do it. The girl who keeps talking about you behind your back: get some distance from her and realise it’s not actually you, it’s her. Do not wear those maroon pants of your mother’s from 1975. They might be comfortable, but really. Best left for Halloween.

Don’t listen to anyone who suggests dreaming is a weakness. Now is the time to dream.

Good luck and please write,

2013 Ria